Thursday, January 27, 2011

Planning What to Eat Saves Much More than Money

Knowing what your meals are for the up-coming week will lower your grocery bill, reduce food wastage, and take less physical and fossil fuel energy. Sit down for a few minutes and write your plan for the week before making the grocery list. Before heading to the store, take a look at your schedule. Are there any evenings that you’ll get home too late to prepare dinner? This is when “planned-overs” save a drive-thru trip, and probably poor nutritional choices. Cooking large batches and then refrigerating or freezing some for later makes busy evenings less insane. Soups and casseroles freeze well and may be one dish meals for easy clean up.
Taking what is left from dinner to work the next day sure beats a sandwich and is way cheaper than eating out.
24% of fruits and vegetables are thrown away in the U.S.  When deciding what to pack in your lunch or which vegetable to prepare for dinner, look to see what needs to be eaten.
According to several recent research studies, each American wastes an average of 197 pounds of food a year. While it may not seem like it, we spend a lower percentage our disposable income on food than any other country. So wasting food is not such a big issue to many of us.
Consumers are just part of the food waste problem. It’s happening all up and down the food supply chain, from the farm, at the processing plants, restaurants, grocery stores and of course at home.
Crunching numbers, researchers have concluded that 300 million barrels of oil a year--4 percent of all oil consumed in America--was used to produce and transport food that wasn’t eaten. Food waste accounts for over a quarter of the consumption of freshwater. Another study, published by University of Texas at Austin, says that each year more energy is wasted in food discarded by Americans than is extracted from U.S. coastal oil and gas reserves. It is also more than all the energy we get from the corn ethanol we produce in a year.
A 2009 National Institute of Health study suggests that increased prevalence of obesity has been the result of the “push effect”, an overwhelming cheap supply of readily available food. Addressing the oversupply of food energy in the U.S. may help curb the obesity epidemic as well as decrease food waste, which has profound environmental consequences.  
In addition to this wasteful consumption of fossil fuels and their direct impact on climate change, food waste rotting in landfills produces substantial quantities of methane, a gas with 25 fold more potent global warming potential than carbon dioxide.  
Fortunately, our local grocery stores donate food that is about to expire to the Hospitality House and Hunger Coalition. Our small family farms are generally very careful not to waste food.
While the entire food supply chain needs to be examined, individuals can make a difference in reducing food waste by planning meals, packing food from restaurants and home dinners for lunch, and composting food scraps for the garden.

Here is a soup recipe that’s large enough to feed a family of 4 at least twice. Freeze the portion that you will don’t eat within 3 days. May thaw in the microwave when you don’t have time or energy to cook. Also a delicious lunch.

Hearty Chicken Noodle Soup

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped carrots
1 cup chopped celery
4 cups diced potatoes
1 garlic clove, minced
2 cups dried noodles of choice (whole wheat is healthiest)
½ teaspoon dried oregano
¼ teaspoon dried thyme
¼ teaspoon poultry seasoning
½ to 1 teaspoon salt
8 cups chicken broth
2 cups diced chicken. May use left-over chicken.

Heat olive oil in a soup pot over medium low heat. Add garlic, onion, celery, carrots and chicken (if raw) and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add potato, broth, salt, oregano, thyme and poultry seasoning and bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer until potato is tender, 15 - 20 minutes. If you are using leftover, cooked chicken, add now. Add noodles and cook 10 minutes until they are tender. You may need to add some water if soup is too thick.

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